Discover the Largest Black Grouper Ever Caught in Florida

Black Grouper
© kaschibo/

Written by Rebecca Mathews

Updated: November 16, 2023

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Black groupers are common in Florida and one of the tastiest fish for the table, but did you know they don’t bite down on their prey? Instead, they suck them in whole, just like a vacuum cleaner? Let’s discover the largest black grouper ever caught in Florida and how you could land a record breaker of your own.

Black grouper

Black grouper are large, dark-colored fish that can weigh up to 180 pounds, reach five feet in length, and live over 30 years.

©Jesus Cobaleda/

Discover Black Grouper Fish

Mycteroperca bonaci is the scientific name for black grouper fish. They are also called black rockfish and marbled rockfish due to their coloring.

They are large, dark-colored fish that can weigh up to 180 pounds, reach five feet in length, and live over 30 years. However, experts say most are caught before reaching this age and size.

Black groupers are actually born female and take about ten years to reach maturity. When they are large enough, some transform into males.


They live in the South Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea, where they prefer to keep near offshore wrecks and the Florida reefs. Black groupers are the largest species of Mycteroperca in the Atlantic Ocean that anglers can keep, and many say they are the best tasting, but they’re large and heavy fish that take some reeling in!

Despite their black name, black groupers are typically dark olive or gray with darker mottled blotches on their sides. Black groupers have dark second dorsal fins and caudal and anal fins too.

Juveniles tend to eat small octopuses, crustaceans, and squid, whereas adult black groupers prefer bigger fish. They are one of the few species that will eat red lionfish, an invasive species in Florida’s waters.

Groupers have teeth, but they use their mouths and gills to create a vacuum to suck in prey rather than biting it as barracudas or sharks do. They also use their incredible mouth vacuums to move sand beneath rocks to form a safe house. Their mouths can reach several feet wide, and the system they use to hoover up prey is an incredible feat of ecological engineering.

black grouper

Black groupers are the largest species of


in the Atlantic Ocean that anglers can keep.

©Shane Gross/

What Is the Largest Black Grouper Ever Caught in Florida?

The largest black grouper ever caught in Florida weighed 113 pounds and six ounces. Donald W. Bone caught it on January 27, 1990, at Dry Tortugas.  

The biggest black grouper ever caught weighed 124 lb (56.24 kg). Tim Oestreich II reeled it in on January 11, 2003, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas. Oestreich caught this record-breaker with a bonito.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) suggests that 40-pound black groupers are common in Florida. Although that isn’t a record-breaking weight, it’s still a large fish that’s worth a day trip.

Where Is Dry Tortugas Located on a Map?

Dry Tortugas is worth considering if you are looking for an ideal fishing destination. This beautiful location is famous for its excellent fishing opportunities, attracting anglers from all over the globe. However, before embarking on your adventure, knowing where exactly Dry Tortugas is located is essential.

Dry Tortugas is a national park that encompasses seven small islands in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. The park is about 70 miles west of Key West and is accessible only by boat or seaplane. It covers an area of approximately 100 square miles.

Depending on your preferences and budget, there are several options for getting to Dry Tortugas. If you prefer traveling by boat, you can choose between private charters or ferries departing from Key West or Fort Myers Beach throughout the year. Alternatively, seaplanes offer regular flights to this paradise-like location if you want a more scenic experience with breathtaking views from above.

In conclusion, whether you’re planning a day trip or an extended stay at Dry Tortugas National Park for some fantastic fishing experiences in serene surroundings, knowing how to get there and where it’s located will help make your journey smoother and stress-free!

Largest Grouper Catch Record

There are 234 species of grouper, and the largest is the Goliath grouper. This species is no surprise as it is the largest grouper ever — and it was in Florida!

In May 1961, an angler caught a 7-foot-long 680-pound Goliath grouper off Fernandina Beach, Florida, using Spanish mackerel as bait. Reeling it in took an hour.

If you’re wondering just how big a Goliath grouper can get, here’s a story for you. In August 2004, a goliath grouper tore a seven-foot-long black-tip shark off Bonita Springs, Florida. An angler had snagged it, but the grouper swallowed it down in one!

If you want to discover the largest grouper in Florida for yourself, you’ll have to stick with black grouper. Goliath groupers are endangered and are now a protected species in the United States. If you catch one by mistake, you should immediately return it to the water.

What Do Grouper Fish Eat?

Black groupers vacuum up fish, crustaceans, octopus, and shrimp, and as we’ve seen, they even take sharks right off an angler’s reel.

Once they are in its mouth, the grouper holds it fast with strong grinding teeth.

Shrimp isolated on white background

Shrimp are among the many things black groupers eat.


Where to Find Black Grouper Fish in Florida

Black grouper are abundant in the southern Atlantic and along Florida’s coastline. Many are caught around Florida Keys’ wreck sites and Pensacola’s Oriskany Memorial Reef, the world’s largest artificial reef. Other great black grouper fishing spots include:

  • Miami’s wrecks and reefs
  • Key Biscayne Liberty shipwreck and Bache Shoal Reef
  • Tampa Bay, Clearwater
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Destin
  • Crystal River

Coastal waters are the best places to find black groupers, as they tend to stay near structures they can take cover in or beneath. Adult black groupers prefer rocky sea bottoms in 60 feet of water or more, and the largest black groupers swim even deeper to find larger prey in 250 feet drop-offs.

Juvenile black groupers tend to stick to the 30 feet deep inshore spawning grounds sheltering near rocks, weeds, and structures until they can fend for themselves. Here they’re prey to land animals such as alliagtors, snakes and predatory birds.

Further afield, the black groupers’ range extends from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the coast of Mexico and Cuba. Many species live in Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama, and south Texas waters.

Miami-Dade County

Black grouper are abundant along Florida’s coastline, including Miami’s wrecks and reefs.


Largest Catch in Florida

A 132-pound alligator gar catch is the largest freshwater catch in Florida. It was caught by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FWC researchers in the Yellow River.

A 1,069.06-pound tiger shark is the largest saltwater fish ever caught in Florida. It was hauled in on June 20, 1981, by Richard Braggs off Pensacola.

Alligator gar

A 132-pound


gar is the largest freshwater fish ever caught in Florida.

©Jennifer White Maxwell/

Best Way to Catch Black Groupers in Florida

Black groupers are also very heavy to land. You’ll need a tackle that’s up to the job and a strong back. They aren’t the “freight train” fish for nothing!

Bottom Fishing

Groupers hunting on the seabed floor are common, and it’s possible to catch them with a long line lure or weighed and heavy fish. To beat them, you’ll need reefs and bottom fish for hours. If you’re after a record breaker, deep-dropping for a huge grouper in deep water is necessary.

Deep Dropping

Fish for monsters only!

Deep dropping in Florida means bottom fishing up to 1,200 feet, where the absolute units live. An electric reel and squid or octopus bait may help.


Fish for black grouper in water as shallow as six feet or as deep as 600 feet with lures or bait worked over a structure. They like wreck sites, reefs, and any kind of submerged structure that offers cover from their few predators, which include sandbar sharks and great hammerheads. Great barracudas may also take smaller groupers.

Black Grouper Protection

This is the largest member of the grouper family that anglers can keep and eat.

Regulations state the amount of black grouper that is available to harvest in a day. These FWC regulations state the following:

  • You must throw Black grouper under 24 inches back,
  • The bag limit is four per person within the 4-grouper aggregate

The group includes snowy, red, scamp, yellowfin, and black grouper, but you can’t harvest protected goliath groupers.

black grouper fish on ice

Black grouper is the largest member of the grouper family that anglers can fish to eat.


Discover the Largest Black Grouper Ever Caught in Florida

Let’s recap on our aim to discover the largest black grouper ever caught in Florida.

  • The Floridian record black grouper weighed 113 pounds and six ounces. Donald W. Bone caught it at Dry Tortugas on January 27, 1990.  
  • The largest black grouper ever caught was hooked in Texas and weighed 124 pounds.
  • The largest grouper ever caught was snagged in Florida. It was a 680-pound goliath grouper.

Florida is a really great place to fish for record-breaking groupers, including black groupers, which are the largest grouper species you can keep and eat there.

If you’re up for some trolling or deep-dropping near reefs and wrecks, that record-breaking black grouper might be waiting for you.

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About the Author

Rebecca is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants and geography. Rebecca has been writing and researching the environment for over 10 years and holds a Master’s Degree from Reading University in Archaeology, which she earned in 2005. A resident of England’s south coast, Rebecca enjoys rehabilitating injured wildlife and visiting Greek islands to support the stray cat population.

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